Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hwaseong Fortress Part 1

On Sunday we slept in and headed to Hwaseong Fortress around 11am. In ancient times the Hwaseong Fortress wall surrounded the town center of Suwon (Suwon city is about 30km south of Seoul) and was built in 1794 by King Jeongjo to house and honor the remains of his father Prince Sado, who had been murdered by being locked alive inside a rice chest by his own father King Yeongjo after failing to obey the command to commit suicide. 
From Wikipedia 
It had been reported to his father that he was mentally ill, wantonly killed people, and was very erratic. This was a disappointment to his father, and with the consent of Lady Yi, Yeongjo finally ordered him to be sealed alive in a large rice chest, where he died within eight days. His son Yi San became King Jeongjo in 1776, after King Yeongjo's death.
Unfortunately, like much of Korea's ancient architecture, much of the fort was destroyed by the Japanese as part of their attempt to eliminate Korean culture from the face of the earth. What the Japanese didn't destroy, the Koreans severely damaged during the Korean war. During the Korean war Suwon changed hands 4 times and much fighting took place in the city. There are some original structures/parts of original structures which still stand to this day, but much of it was rebuilt in the 1970's which was a little disappointing for me because even though they tried their best to recreate the fortress, it has a "new' feel about it and just isn't the same. 

There are a lot of different structures scattered throughout the center of Suwon and I didn't have time to check them all out so I will have to come back another day. I spent a couple of hours wondering around the detached palace which was at the center of it all. The palace (Haenggung) was built within the walls of Hwaseong Fortress to house King Jeongjo when he was away from his palace in Seoul worshipping at his fathers tomb. 

Enough history. It is picture time^^.

This is the main gate to the palace.

I am not sure what the correct wording is, but the next 4 pictures are basically the room where the kind lived and did his work.

This was at the rear of the king's room (left) where the servants lived (right). 

A servant in his room. I managed to get most of the room in the picture. It is very small.

We were able to walk part of the way up the mountain at the back of the palace. You can see the palace roof lines down below the trees. 

I don't know what significance (if any) this tree had. I just thought it looked interesting and really really old. 

Pictured here is Naknamheon which was a specially designed facility for various events. It is the only building in the palace complex which was not destroyed and is still maintained in its original form. It is doing pretty well for 220 years.

This structure (Hwaryeongjeon) was built to enshrine a portrait of King Jeongjo in his military uniform. Hwaryeongjeon means "return to pay respects to parents". King Sunjo (son of King Jeongjo) would visit to pay his respects and hold sacrificial rites whenever he visited. 

Portrait of King Jeongjo

This is one of the royal wells where pure water was used for the rituals at Hwaryeongjeon (pictured above).

Some massive jumbo sized goldfish!

Koreans are short.

An example of the food that was prepared for the great feasts held at the palace. 

The main palace kitchen. Jihyeon told me that her grandmother had a kitchen similar to this. 

Some pots used to make Kimchi or bean paste. 

This is what the money used to look like back then. It had a hole in the middle so you could keep your money on a string. 

We had a photo taken wearing some traditional royal clothing. 

A traditional Korean game. I am not sure what it is called exactly, but is is both frustrating and fun. 

Woot! I did it. 

Another really old tree. People were writing their wishes on paper and then tying them to a string that was wrapped around the tree. 

We decided to give it a go too.

We then headed to the main palace gate for a ceromony that was performed whenever the king arrived at the palace. 

We then headed to a restaurant famous for their boiled chicken for lunch. It was great. 

The first side dish arrived. It was a giant slice of radish which must have been growing near where the North Koreans were testing nuclear weapons. It was huge. We cut it up so we could eat it. Note that using scissors to cut vegetables and meat is normal in Korea. 

And the boiled chicken arrived. It didn't look super appetizing but it tasted great. We were given a small bowl of seasoned salt to dip the chicken in before eating it. It was good. 

Then we ordered a second main dish of spicy noodles (I am unsure of the exact name). I impressed everyone and went back for seconds. It was too hot for Jihyeon and her sister. It looks like eating all that spicy food in the lunch cafeteria is paying off. 

After lunch we headed to the train station and back home. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Last week went whizzing by and before I knew it the weekend had arrived^^.

On Saturday Jihyeon and I caught the KTX to Seoul where we went to see a baseball game. It was the first baseball game I have ever watched and.... I was not impressed. I am sorry if you are a fan of the game, but it is kind of boring. I played baseball a little at school when I was growing up and it was fun to play, but as a spectator is is dead boring. 

Anyway, I am getting a little ahead of myself. Before the game we went to Iteawon (suburb in Seoul) where we went to a supposedly Australia pie shop. I was not terribly impressed. The quality of the pies was similar to what you get in the frozen section at Woolworths (large Australian supermarket chain). It wasn't a bad feed, but I will not be traveling all that way again just for a soggy pie. 

I did not have a good feeling about Iteawon and even though it was the middle of the day it was the first place in Korea I didn't feel "safe". There were westerners everywhere and some of them were very loud and drunk (in the middle of the day). After seeing how they were behaving I can see why some Koreans don't like westerners. I draw some solace from the fact that they were speaking with American accents which means they are mainly only hurting America by their poor behavior. I really hope none of them are English teachers at the local hagwon's, but sadly I suspect they are. 

A short walk from the pie shop was a Mosque so Jihyeon and I went to check it out. We were greeted at the foot of the stairs by a friendly elderly Korean man who took us to the doorway (we were not allowed inside) and explained some of the rules and what happens inside. 

We decided leave the drunk/drugged up westerners behind and jump back on the subway and head to a different area of Seoul. We went to Insadong do an area called Ssamjigil which is home to lots of small businesses selling all manner of nick nacks and souvenirs. It is my Grandmothers birthday next week so I needed to find a card for her. I was in a grumpy mood (I don't like shopping and I was hungry) so Jihyeon shut me up by stuffing me with food at a restaurant down two flights of stairs in the basement of a building.

After lunch as we were heading back to the subway station we encountered a parade. It was to celebrate the wedding of Emperor Gojong and Empress Myeongseong. Their union had a tragic end when the Japanese assassinated the empress in 1895. When you start digging into Korean history you can really start to understand why there is still a lot of distrust and tension today between Korea and Japan.
From Wikipedia
In the early morning of 8 October 1895, sword-bearing assassins, allegedly under orders from Miura GorĊ, entered Gyeongbok Palace. Upon entering the Queen's Quarters (Okhoru Pavilion), the assassins "killed three court [women] suspected of being Empress Myeongseong. When they confirmed that one of them was the Empress, they burned the corpse in a pine forest in front of the Okhoru Pavilion, and then dispersed the ashes." She was 43 years old.
The assassination of the Korean Empress ignited outrage among other foreign powers. To appease growing international criticism, the Japanese government "recalled Miura and placed him under a staged trial at the Hiroshima District Court, while the military personnel involved were tried at a military court. All were given the verdict of not-guilty on the grounds of insufficient evidence."

We then made our way to the Jamsil Sports Complex where the baseball stadium was located. After getting off the subway at the wrong station, we eventually arrived about 4:30PM. We met up with Jihyeon's sister and her sisters boyfriend and then headed into the stadium. Something I found was nice is you can take your own food and beverages into the stadium with you which allows you to escape the stupid prices normally charged inside stadiums. 

Out the front of the stadium were people selling snack foods to take into the stadium. Pictured here are some old ladies selling dried squid, kimbap (Korean sushi), soju (alcohol made from rice) and beer. 

Jihyeon purchased me a mega hand. What does one do with a mega hand? This was the first thing that came to my mind :)

We were there to see the Lotte Giants (Lotte is a large Korean conglomerate) Vs the LG Twins (LG is another large Korean conglomerate).


We headed inside and found our seats. Jihyeon's sister had bought some really good seats nice and close to the... errr.... game.

Baseball is a boring game, but thankfully the Koreans have spiced it up a bit with lots of singing and pretty girls dancing :).

Something I thought was interesting (not for a good reason) is that all the chants were for the company name not the team name. In Australia if/when you chant for a team, you don't chant the name of the sponsor. You chant the name of the team. I can't help but wonder if it is some sort of sinister plot to brainwash Koreans into loving Lotte who is a large conglomerate making/selling everything from heavy chemicals to electronics. They also operate a fast food chain similar to McDonalds. 

Later they treated us to PSY's Gentleman

After 3 hours... Lotte won :). Sorry about the jerky video. I was trying to part take in the celebrations while also filming. 

After the game we headed to Jihyeon's sisters home in Suwon for the night.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun!

I can't believe how fast time seems to be moving. The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a blur. 

A couple of weeks ago I had to attend GET (Guest English Teacher) in service training. It is additional training that the Daejeon MOE pays for all its new GET's to do. The training takes a full week of afternoons. We started at 3PM and finished about 6PM. The training was pretty easy going. It was a very relaxed environment where we had opportunities to talk to other teachers and get advice on problems we were having. 

Apart from the GET training I have pretty much spent the last two weeks teaching, writing lesson plans and proof reading English exams written by the other teachers. On Friday last week (19th) my school had a debating contest and I was one of the judges... mwahahaha. I was a little annoyed that it was on a Friday afternoon after classes, but all the other English teachers were there so I felt it would be pretty bad form if I wasn't there. I actually ended up having a good time. The three best students will go go to a inter-school debate contest in Daejeon later this year. I am going to help them prepare for the contest. Hopefully we can win :).

On Friday I also got a strange gift from girls in one of my classes. I am not sure if they were making fun of me or they genuinely thought it was cute and a good gift.... Either way I accepted it, smiled and said thank you. They built a small paper box, put some really small bugs inside (bugs are about 1mm big) and then made a sticky tape lid so you could see the bugs.

This is one Korean culture thing I don't quite get....